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MOUNT VERNON — Seven years after the Friendly's Restaurant at 808 Coshocton Ave. unexpectedly closed its doors, it remains an empty shell.
Since Friendly's closure in 2014, other vacant buildings surfaced. Some, such as 625 N. Sandusky St., were reoccupied within a relatively short time. Others, such as 208 W. High St., have lingered. Then there's 301 N. Mulberry St., which predates Friendly's by a good number of years.
In an effort to incentivize owners to find tenants for their vacant buildings and avoid long-term boarded-up buildings like Friendly's, Mount Vernon City Council passed an ordinance in May 2019 creating a vacant property registry. The registry applies to commercial, industrial or institutional buildings.
Under the program, owners of then-vacant property had to register with the city within 60 days. Owners registered 14 structures.
For buildings that become vacant thereafter, property owners must register the building within 90 days from the date of last occupancy. Two registered in 2020 and one in 2021 thus far.
Long John Silver's, Hardee's, and Jake's, notable closures on Coshocton Avenue, all registered with the city.
After a property is vacant for 24 months, the ordinance requires the owner to pay an annual registration fee. For the first year, the fee is $400. Each consecutive year the property remains vacant, the fee doubles. The maximum annual registration fee equals the five-year registration fee of $6,400.
“No one owes anything the first two years. Depending on the economy, it can take a long time to sell,” explained Greg Bemiller, the city's property maintenance enforcement officer (PMEO), of the two-year grace period.
During this two-year period, however, the buildings are subject to the city's maintenance code. The maintenance code requires such things as proper grass and weed maintenance, a secure building and sound roof, and removal of trash and debris. As PMEO, Bemiller has the authority to enforce the maintenance codes.
In the case of Friendly's, Bemiller said the city has mowed the lawn and billed the owner for the services. Bemiller also required the owner to paint and reconfigure the boarding for the windows.
“The property maintenance code keeps things from falling apart,” he said. “They're minimum standards, but you can't set standards to make [buildings] look a certain way.”
It was late October 2019 by the time the registry process was finalized and Bemiller sent out the first letters to property owners. This month, two properties will reach the 24-month milestone and be subject to a fee: Friendly's and the former Certified station at 100 Coshocton Ave.
It remains to be seen whether the registration fees have any effect.
“We cannot make them rent or occupy the building,” Bemiller said. “It's private property. They can leave it vacant, if they choose to pay the fees.”
Of the remaining 14 properties registered on Oct. 31, 2019:
•Four are now occupied.
•Five are being used as storage.
•136 S. Main St. (formerly First Federal Savings and Loan of Wooster, then First Merit, and then Huntington Bank) was briefly occupied by the Republican Party headquarters in October 2020, thus resetting the vacancy start date.
•201 S. Mulberry St. has an open permit.
•208 W. High St. had an open construction permit prior to registering. It will be back on the active list in two or three weeks, at which time the 24-month registration fee time frame will begin.
Of the properties added since Jan. 9, 2020:
•Jake's, 996 Coshocton Ave., has been sold and demolished. Construction began in October for a new Burger King.
•Hardee's, 998 Coshocton Ave., is to be retrofitted to a Del Taco restaurant. Covid delayed progress. According to Lacie Blankenhorn, development services manager for the city, renovations are to begin next spring.
•Long John Silver's, 935 Coshocton Ave., will pay a registration fee on Jan. 29, 2023 if it remains unoccupied.
The annual registration fee is based on the length of time the property is vacant regardless of owner.
O ICE LLC bought the restaurant at 808 Coshocton Ave. in 2007 from Friendly's Realty for $420,606 and sold to SIC Property LLC in November 2018 for $311,000. Ohio FRV LLC bought the property in October 2020 for $55,000.
According to Elyria's newspaper, The Chronicle-Telegram, Ohio FRV LLC also bought the Friendly's restaurant in Elyria in October 2020. It, too, remains vacant. Elyria is looking to clean up and develop its downtown and Midway Mall and has issued a violation notice to Ohio FRV.
Ohio FRV is based in Norwood, MA. It incorporated in Ohio in September 2020.